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How to build a better Android shopping app

H&M’s Android app

While  iOS users are typically the most engaged mobile shoppers, building a better Android shopping application will be crucial for retailers going forward as the number of users on the platform continues to explode.

Retailers can take a cue from eBay, whose app engages consumers more on Android than on iOS, and consider each device’s menu and navigation setup to create a better experience for Android users. Retailers need to spend time learning about typical Android users to cater the shopping experience to the different devices and audience.

“The factors that make a good Android app versus iOS are very similar,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director at Yankee Group. “The fundamentals of user experience, providing value like cross-channel experience, all of that are the same whether you’re on Android or iOS.

“What’s going to change is the native experience, that you’re not just creating an iOS app and transferring that over,” she said. “You really want to make sure that you’re building an experience for the native OS, that you’re learning from your iOS app and transferring some of those skills but recreating it for Android.

Shopping app
Android is a bit trickier to develop for than iOS because it is fragmented with devices from many different manufacturers.

A recent report from Yankee Group and Mobidia took a look at shopping apps and how they measure up for today’s consumers.  The report, “Does your mobile shopping app stack up?,” found that a number of shopping apps displayed a gap in terms of engagement on iOS versus Android.

The report looked at an app’s weekly user activity and monthly user activity to assign a percentage based on the frequency with which consumers return to the app.

Most companies on average had a 3 percent difference for app usage between iOS and Android, with iOS coming out on top. A few apps showed more significant differences.

Victoria’s Secret saw 76 percent for iOS usage and 41 percent for Android, and H&M saw 75 percent for iOS and 46 percent for Android. Both retailers also demonstrated poor performance in number of application sessions.

EBay was the only app to significantly engage consumers more on Android than on iOS with 63 percent on Android and 55 percent on iOS.

According to Ms. Kingstone, eBay’s Android app does a good job of taking into account the device’s menu and navigation setup, creating a better experience for Android users.

In the upcoming year, retailers should expect there to be a bigger focus on improving Android apps, and they should step up their game on the platform.

Facebook is leading the way with its recent acquisition of India-based Little Eye Labs, which builds performance analysis and monitoring tools specifically for Android apps. The acquisition will help Facebook improve its own Android app and points to a shifting focus towards the platform.

Android vs. iOS
Regardless of platform, a retailer should include easy, quick checkout in an app.

However, retailers still need to tailor the experience to the different devices.

First of all, the layout and navigation on iOS and Android devices are different. Simply placing a button in a different place could make a huge difference for some users.

Little graphical changes like color schemes, menu buttons and the navigation of where certain buttons lay can all make a huge difference.

“If you make something unfamiliar you’re not going to get them to use the app because they’re going to get frustrated,” Ms. Kingstone said.

Beyond technical differences, each device tends to attract a different type of user.

For instance, Android users tend to be younger and from a lower-income bracket. They also tend to care more about social media and deals.

IBM recently found that iOS beat Android in terms of revenue over the holidays. Ms. Kingstone points to the differences in userbase as a reason for this.

“I think one of the reasons why iOS pulled in more revenue compared to Android has to do with the user,” Ms. Kingstone said. “IOS users have higher incomes and are older, both of which translate to shopping.

“So, it isn’t that people don’t shop on Android, but the users on Android are younger and have less income,” she said.

Beyond navigation and user experience, retailers should also leverage additional features that Android has to offer such as predictive marketing.

“There is also a growing trend to be more predictive and suggestive based on the users’ previous behavior,” said Chris Hill, vice president of marketing at Mobidia, Richmond, BC, Canada. “Google’s Now app is a great example of this.”

Another thing to keep in mind when developing an Android shopping app is how they process payments.

“One of the biggest advantages to Android is the Google Wallet app,” said Li-at Karpel Gurwicz, marketing director at Conduit Mobile. “Some Android phones are even equipped with an NFC chip that can be used for making wireless payments simply by tapping the phone at the checkout counter.”

Retailers can take advantage of this and offer simpler checkout in an Android app using Google’s API.

App strategy
While retailers should definitely tailor an app towards a specific device, it is still a good idea to test one before the other. That way they can learn from their mistakes on the first try and avoid making them again on the next platform.

Since iOS is more streamlined than Android with only one platform, it makes sense for retailers to begin with iOS and move on to Android afterwards. That does not, however, mean that retailers should assume the same exact app will work on Android.

Retailers need to devote time and money to testing apps for both platforms.

When developing the apps, retailers need to keep a lot in mind.

“You need to decide whether your app will do a broad range of functions at an average level, or just a couple of functions very well,” said Peter Olynick, card and payments practice lead at Carlisle & Gallagher, Charlotte, NC. “You need to decide whether your goal is to retain customers who are shopping in your store or to steal customers who are shopping at other stores.

“Customers will not use apps with poor customer experience,” he said. “They expect the app to be compatible with their existing phone, easy to set-up/use, and make the overall shopping experience better.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York